It’s crunch time for Cubs third baseman Mike Olt

It’s crunch time for Cubs third baseman Mike Olt
March 19, 2014, 8:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – Does Mike Olt have enough time left to convince the coaching staff and the front office that he should make this team?

It’s the biggest question at a Cubs camp that doesn’t have many open roster spots or real job battles, even coming off a 96-loss season and a very quiet winter.

The Cubs will start to get a better idea on Thursday, when Olt is supposed to play third base for the first time this spring. It’s crunch time after hearing versions of “close” and “soon” as he recovers from the sore right shoulder that has limited him to first base and designated hitter.

“I don’t know,” Olt said. “It’s going to be up to them. I’m just looking to get out there. It’s going to take a little bit to get used to it. It’s not always like riding a bike. So it’ll be exciting to get back out there and see where I’m at.”

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Manager Rick Renteria said Olt is supposed to play four or five innings against the Seattle Mariners at Cubs Park. From there, it’s only 11 days until Opening Day. It’s unclear if Olt has a real shot at breaking up the Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy platoon and winning the third-base job.

“I can’t put the cart before the horse,” Renteria said. “He’s got to be able to be healthy. We can’t make a determination on anything as far as where he’s going to be until we know he’s capable of going out there.

“We’ve got to take it one day at a time. I can’t project, because I don’t have that luxury. He hasn’t played third base all spring. He’s been working over there. I need to see him out there first. We all need to see him out there. He needs to feel comfortable.”

Cubs executives could just decide to let Olt play every day at Triple-A Iowa and build confidence after a combination of medical issues – concussion symptoms, vision/tear-duct problems, allergies – ruined last season and made him available in the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers.

It’s not in this front office’s DNA to rush a player onto a last-place team or make a quick decision based on emotions or a small sample size in spring training.

Olt’s also 25 years old, with more than 1,200 at-bats in the minors already. He’s shown signs of the power hitter who generated 28 homers and 82 RBI in 95 games at Double-A Frisco in 2012, earning a promotion to Texas that August.

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In 10 Cactus League games, Olt has hit .258 with four homers, nine RBI, one walk and 12 strikeouts. He’s moved on from last year’s 39-game disaster at Iowa, where he hit .168 and struck out 37 times.

“I feel like a made a lot of improvements,” Olt said. “Especially spring trainings in the past, I really struggled. It takes me awhile to get used to live pitching and velocity. (As) I grew up and kind of watched the game and talked to all the older veteran players, I’m making adjustments a lot quicker.

“That’s going to be the biggest change in my game, because every day you’re going to have to make adjustments. Now I can make them midgame and not wait a week to make all the adjustments.”

Olt hasn’t gotten defensive or snapped at reporters during what has essentially become daily health updates at his locker.

“It comes with the territory,” Olt said. “Everyone has to deal with questions and I don’t mind answering the questions. It’s better than last year, answering questions I didn’t know (the answers to).”